Equality vs. Equity

By: Dr. John S. Lyons


There are two basic doctrines that have been used to define fairness—equality and equity.   Equality approaches attempt to achieve fairness by treating everyone exactly the same.   In equality doctrine fairness is defined as giving everyone identical opportunities.   Equality doctrine underlies the core constructs of a democratic society.   The Declaration of Independence reads in part “all men are created equal…” which is a formal statement of the equality doctrine (provided we take “men” as meaning humans and ignore the original exclusion of all other groups).

An alternative notion of fairness is captured in the Equity doctrine.   Equity defines fairness as each according to their needs.  The argument made by those supporting equity models of fairness is that equality works only when everyone is starting from the same place.  The more diverse the population, the less ‘fair’ giving everyone the same thing might be.


The main challenge with equity solutions is to propose a reliable and valid mechanism to individualize interventions for people by their needs.  The CANS, ANSA and FAST are examples of these types of mechanisms.  By creating a reliable and valid consensus-based understanding of needs and strengths it becomes possible to be fair while still treating people differently based on their specific circumstances.    Understood in this way, TCOM is an approach to equity-based policy development.


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